By Michael Forbis

Who is Jackson County Fire and Life Safety?

Our mission is “To educate our public, thus making a difference in our communities thorough training, prevention and life safety education.”

Fire and Life Safety Education has drastically changed from the days of a fire truck, a plastic hat and a coloring book. A modern safety education program must strive to reach the general public and change behavior to improve community safety. Bringing fire education into the schools reflects the long held belief that the way to produce lasting results in safety attitudes and behaviors is to reach young children, who will grow up to be safer adults. Going directly to the public with a variety of methods has the same basic goal; to increase knowledge and change behavior so that people are safer. 

Annually during the month of October, since 2015, we visit all the elementary schools (five public schools, one charter school, two Christian schools) spreading the Fire Prevention Message. With help from our local EMS, county fire departments, county rescue squads, Cherokee Fire and Rescue, the N.C. Forest Service, Jackson County Department of Public Health, Safe Kids Cherokee, Safe Kids Jackson County, students from Health Occupation Students of America and Jackson County Early College, we annually log over 1,900 volunteer hours in two weeks to reach over 2,500 students each year.

With help from The American Red Cross, Safe Kids Jackson County and other local partners, we have an established Smoke Alarm Program that provides education and installation of alarms in residences. In the past four years, we have visited over 600 homes and installed more than 520 smoke alarms in our county. 

With funding from Great Smokies Health Foundation and a partnership with our child care health consultants at the Jackson County Department of Public Health, we recently assembled “teachable totes” for our preschools. These totes will be equipped with all the materials needed for a preschool teacher to deliver a fire prevention message to our youth of tomorrow.  Materials such as the “Learn Not to Burn” program from the National Fire Protection Association, books, Kid Sized Turn Out Gear, smoke alarms, a flash drive containing videos, songs, printable materials and more. 

With this program, we reach an average of 665 preschool students annually. 

With funding from GSHF and a partnership with Safe Kids, we have car seat technicians in local fire departments who conduct car seat checks and installations throughout the year as a service to the community. Two of these departments are permanent checking stations. Checking stations are locations where parents/caregivers can receive information about child passenger safety from nationally certified child passenger safety technicians and have their car seats and seat belts checked to be sure they are installed and used correctly.

With help from the GSHF, we implemented a first aid and CPR program throughout the middle schools in our county. Upon graduating 8th grade, youth are certified in Basic First Aid, Adult CPR and they have an extensive knowledge in fire and life safety skills. In 2016, after completing our program, two siblings successfully administered CPR to their mother and brought her back to life.  

With the exception of 2018, we have had a fire fatality every year since 2013. Of these fatalities, four were in homes with no working alarms. In canvassing the county’s fire departments, we found several other structure fires with no working alarms, and 43 structure fires were attributed to improper chimney or heating appliance care and maintenance. 

In addition to all this we have many fire prevention presentations throughout the county as well as using our fire extinguisher training system in schools, churches, civic groups and assisted living facilities we use to teach everyone how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

Michael Forbis is fire marshal, Jackson County Emergency Management.